The Low-down on Zoonotic Diseases

Dog and girl - training

The news regarding the pet dog of an Ebola victim being put to sleep has raised lots of questions about just what can and can’t pass from pets to humans (or vice versa).

Whilst research into Ebola transmission from animals to humans is ongoing, there are a number of conditions we DO know can be transmitted.

Whilst these are a lot less scary than Ebola, they can be serious and even deadly so it worthwhile understanding the risks and methods of prevention.

When both humans and animals can suffer from the same disease, we refer to this as a zoonosis.

Which diseases are zoonotic?

There are a number of zoonotic conditions including:

  • Rabies
  • Leptospirosis
  • Parasitic infections such as Giardia
  • Influenza (such as Avian flu)
  • Coli and Salmonella

This is not an exhaustive list but does represent some of the more likely threats. You can see a complete list of zoonotic diseases here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/list-of-zoonotic-diseases

Of course, some people may be at risk more than others – if you work with animals every day or keep reptiles or poultry then you may have a higher level of exposure and thus a higher likelihood of contracting a zoonotic condition.

Pregnant women, children, the elderly and those with a compromised immune system are also more vulnerable.

Pregnant women should take extra precautions if they have pet cats as cats are responsible for the spread of toxoplasmosis. This parasite can be passed to the unborn baby by the mother, possibly leading to serious health problems.

As such, it is advised that pregnant women avoid any contact with cat faeces. However, despite some scare-mongering media coverage, the threat of Toxoplasmosis should not be over-stated and owners should certainly not consider any drastic actions such as getting rid of their cats.

Of course, the best way to prevent any risk of contracting a zoonotic disease from your pet is to prevent them getting a zoonotic disease in the first place! The main way to do this is to make sure you keep up with regular preventative healthcare such as vaccinations and worming.

You should also stop your pets drinking from public water sources that may have been contaminated by other animals.

Anyone importing a pet from abroad should be ultra-vigilant in making sure that they are entering the country with a full veterinary history and up to date vaccinations.

The illegal importing of pets with little heed to health could be responsible for the introduction of dangerous zoonotic diseases. As such, it’s important to buy pets from reputable sources.

However, with Leptospirosis, there are strains of the disease that are not covered by vaccination. Prompt and thorough treatment is vital in ensuring these cases have a happy ending.

But what if my pet does already has a zoonotic condition?

  • Don’t panic!
  • Don’t let pets use children’s’ sandpits as a toilet – keep them covered when not in use.
  • Be aware that diseases may also pass cross-species between different animals – keep healthy pets away from sick ones. It’s also important to use separate bowls, blankets, etc.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after touching your pet or handling any of their possessions.
  • Make sure you dispose of faeces regularly and always use gloves.
  • Be aware of how the disease in question might present in humans and monitor for symptoms.

Basically, good hygiene is key!

The likelihood of zoonotic transmission is fairly low, so please don’t feel alarmed by any of the content of this blog.

A level of awareness and taking sensible precautions should help to keep down the risk of transmission, as will prompt treatment in an affected pet.

Health issues? Need some advice? Please use our online practice finder to locate your local Medivet practice and contact us.

Posted March 6, 2015 in Preventative Healthcare

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